CNMI Governor Vetoes Some Provisions Of Appropriations Bill

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Authority for precinct lawmakers to control public works funds rejected

By Daisy Demapan

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 11, 2016) – Gov. Ralph DLG Torres on Wednesday vetoed a local provision, among other vetoed items, that would have allowed precinct lawmakers to control the funds of specific public works projects, in approving a local appropriations bill Wednesday.

Torres also vetoed provisions that would give additional monies to the accounts of delegation leadership members, and ten of thousands of dollars to the delegation for participation in the Festival of Pacific Arts in Guam in 2016 and similar amounts to local farmers for crop loss, citing a lack of clarification in these purposes.

The provisions came as part of House Local Bill 19-37,D7, which appropriates $4.27 million from poker license fees.

Torres called one provision—which provides expenditure authority for funds to members of each respective precinct in consultation with the secretaries of the Departments of Public works and Finance—as unconstitutional.

Torres said in a letter to lawmakers that granting the local delegation expenditure authority over appropriation for these projects—which include public road paving and repairs, park facility improvements, and Public School System improvements—is in violation of the separation of powers doctrine.

The constitutional function of the CNMI Legislature is to enact legislation and make general appropriations, Torres reminded lawmakers in his letter, and the Executive Branch is granted the power to execute and implement laws.

"The delegation…does not posses the constitutional authority to confer onto its members the authority to control or dictate the expenditure of public funds for various public works projects that are Executive Branch functions," Torres said.

Additional $75K

Torres found that one provision unconstitutionally attempted to provide additional funding to members of the Saipan Northern Islands Delegation, even as the CNMI Constitution establishes a "budget ceiling requirement and parity obligations in regards to funding each member of the CNMI Legislature."

Section 16 of the bill provides that each member of the Legislature would receive a chunk of the appropriated money for "office expenses." Currently, budget law set that amount at $74,822, but the local bill violated this constitutional parity requirement by appropriating another $75,000 to be divided among delegation leadership members and another $25,000 to be allocated among the delegation minority members.

"The Saipan and Northern Island Delegation is a sub-unit of the CNMI Legislature and is not permitted to receive more money than any other member," Torres said.

$50K appropriations vetoed

A $50,000 appropriation to the delegation for participation in the Festpac was vetoed because it was "questionable and needs further clarification."

"It is unclear in my opinion what public purpose that would be served," if the monies were appropriated, Torres wrote.

Another $50,000 for the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, Division for Agriculture, for "equal distribution to the CNMI Farmer’s Cooperative Association and the Saipan Sabalu Farmer’s Market Inc., was also found "problematic" and disapproved.

"The manner by which the funds are to be distributed to members of these organizations who suffered crop loss due to Typhoon Soudelor needs further clarification to properly meet the intent of the appropriation," Torres wrote.

This provision did not spell out how crop loss would be verified, or what would happen if a farmer belonged to both organizations, and if the size of crop would matter for the amount of money given for mitigation, administrations officials close to the veto decisions said Thursday.

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